Marquette Avenue and 2nd Avenue comprise a pair of parallel one-way streets running north and south through Minneapolis’s downtown. Together, these streets carry high volumes of vehicle and bus traffic, especially during peak hours. In an effort to improve transportation in the busy downtown district, the City of Minneapolis completely reconstructed the two streets to reduce travel times, expand the pedestrian realm, introduce a second dedicated contra-flow bus lane on each street, and integrate landscaping and amenities to improve the transit experience.
Historically the site of streetcar lines, both Marquette Ave and 2nd Ave operated with two vehicle lanes in each direction until the 1970s. In order to improve transit operations and speed bus travel times, officials converted each street to one-way vehicle traffic with a single contraflow bus lane in the 1970s. Buses used a single dedicated lane in the opposite direction of each street’s car traffic: on Marquette Ave, buses traveled south and two lanes of general traffic traveled north, with the opposite arrangement on 2nd Ave.
During peak periods, buses could carry 2,700 passengers per hour. Under ideal conditions, the dedicated lanes on Marquette Ave and 2nd Ave could accommodate a combined 60 buses per hour at a scheduled operating speed of 4.0 to 4.5 miles per hour. However, February 2009 studies of the evening peak hour revealed that the over-burdened bus lanes on Marquette and 2nd Ave actually carried 80 and 93 buses per hour, respectively. Often moving at just 2.9 miles per hour, afternoon bus travel through downtown was barely faster than walking. The single contraflow bus lanes accommodated more buses per hour than mixed-flow lanes, but with bus stops at every block and no room for passing, all buses traveled at the speed of the slowest bus. Furthermore, narrow sidewalks limited the use of bus shelters, and queueing passengers often crowded the 12′ wide pedestrian space.
In 2006, the City of Minneapolis and Metro Transit conducted a transportation study, Access Minneapolis, which was approved by the Mayor and City Council in June 2007. Part of the study, the Downtown Action Plan, evaluated strategies to improve transit on Marquette and 2nd Avenue. The plan called for both streets to be completely rebuilt from building face to building face, with double contra-flow bus lanes, wider sidewalks, and passenger amenities such as bus shelters, landscaping, and lighting.
An Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) between the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council directed a $133 million federal grant to the metropolitan area to reduce congestion and encourage transit use. The City of Minneapolis was a subrecipient of the Metropolitan Council, and received about $32 million for the project, dubbed MARQ2, to reconstruct Marquette and 2nd Ave. The terms of the federal funding required that the contra-flow bus lanes be operational by December 31, 2009, so the city adopted an accelerated construction timeline to meet this deadline.
The City began construction on the Marq2 project in August 2008, rebuilding streets first, followed by sidewalks. The project was completed in December 2009. The City narrowed the roadway and restriped both Marquette and 2nd Avenues to include two dedicated contra-flow bus lanes on each road. The reconstruction also widened the sidewalks, especially on the transit side of the street, and improved the passenger experience with new heated bus shelters and transit kiosks featuring electronic displays with real-time transit information. The wider sidewalks also allowed for the installation of bike racks, public art, and street lighting. The City planned approximately three hundred new trees along the sidewalk in structural cells and installed a combined acre of interlocking porous pavers in the amenity zone surrounding bike racks, signs and lighting.
Marquette Ave’s right-of-way is 80′. Following the redesign, a typical section of the street is dimensioned accordingly, from west to east:
- 17′ sidewalk to accommodate pedestrians and transit riders
- 11′ curbside bus lane for buses making stops
- 13′ bus lane for moving buses
- 11′ car lane
- 14′ car lane
- 14′ sidewalk
In some instances, the 14′ eastern sidewalk is reduced to 7′ wide to accommodate a 7′ wide drop-off bay. 2nd Ave’s street section is the same as Marquette Ave, though reversed.
Metro Transit played a substantial role in the Marq2 project implementation. The corridor reconstruction greatly improved bus operations and travel times, as well as the passenger experience. Introducing a second contraflow bus lane increased throughput capacity from 1,000 buses per day on the two streets in February 2009, to 1,389 per day in April 2010. During the afternoon peak in April 2010, Marquette and 2nd Ave carried 154 and 116 buses per hour, respectively, up from 80 and 93, respectively, in February 2009. Operating speeds during the afternoon peak hour improved to 5.92 and 6.37 miles per hour, respectively, in February 2011. The morning peak saw even greater improvements, with buses on Marquette and 2nd Ave traveling at 6.74 and 7.46 miles per hour, respectively, in February 2011. These changes allow buses on the corridor to carry 8,100 passengers per hour during peak times, compared with 2,700 per hour previously. Metro Transit is continuing to adjust signal timing and operating procedures, with a goal of 8 mile per hour average travel speeds.
Six transit providers in the metropolitan region serve downtown Minneapolis, so Metro Transit worked to coordinate operations along the Marq2 corridor. On a weekend day in 2008, Metro Transit closed the corridor to vehicles and simulated operations to educate bus drivers. All transit operators agreed to standardized running times and rules of operation. For example, no traveling is allowed in the curbside lane, which is used solely to stop for passengers boarding and alighting. When four buses are stopped at a red light—two in the curbside lane and two in the passing lane—once the light turns green, the curbside bus pulls away first, followed by the bus in the passing lane, followed by the second curbside bus and then the second bus in the passing lane. Additionally, Metro Transit reduced the total number of bus stops and staggered stops so that groups of bus routes would use alternating blocks, allowing moving buses to leap-frog those stopped at the curb. Bus stops are 135′ long, with 40′ between stop groups. Metro Transit continues to evaluate operations to realize further improvements on the Marq2 corridor.